Inverse stopped clock

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Not to be confused with a Stopped clock moment.
Genius is no guarantee against being dead wrong.
Carl Sagan
A gris-gris is a voodoo amulet, something you carry or wear to bring good luck and ward off bad vibes. We have a saying around Bullshit: Everybody got a gris-gris. What we mean by that is everyone believes in some crazy thing they just can't quite give up yet.
Penn Jillette

An inverse stopped clock refers to a situation in which someone who is usually logical, rational, or correct does or believes something idiotic or crazy. Also referred to as "Sometimes even geniuses make mistakes", "Even Homer sometimes nods", or the common phrase "Nobody's perfect."


Due to the imperfect nature of human beings, even reasonable people — including people widely respected for being reasonable — will make a mistake every now and then, often by chance alone. Perhaps something cranky (e.g. a conspiracy theory) appeals to someone's ideology and they go with it, even if they're usually correct on other subjects. Other times they may panic and do something stupid in response to a sometimes exaggerated threat or situation. The difference between these people and other cranks is that they are usually not crazy, but every time an inverse stopped clock situation takes place their reputation becomes slightly more soiled. (The degree of stupidity also makes a difference, and if the moment is crazy enough they may never be able to live it down, with everything they say being up for question after the incident.)

It should be noted that dismissing everything a reasonable person has accomplished or believes in simply because of one or two crank beliefs, silly superstitions or terrible behaviors can be seen as an invocation of the Nirvana fallacy.

The most dangerous part of the inversed stopped clock is that the crankery supported may be given much more weight than if it was supported by a known nutjob, due to the usually decent/sane reputation of the person promoting it. The opposite could also happen, and the person's one crank belief will become, again, mainly what they are known for, leaving the rest of their work marginalized by association. An example of the latter is Peter Duesberg and his HIV denialism.

A bit more cynical explanation is that everyone has a "need" to be powerful; this is the "pride" that is a "mortal sin". Ideally this is done by actually having major accomplishments, such as establishing a business or completing a degree. In many cases, this desire can be filled by hyping up the importance of your own hobbies or adopting "enlightened" worldviews. In fringe cases, this is done through buying into conspiracy theories or crank views, the "cheat codes" to knowledge. The person that "knows" that some dissolved silver cures AIDS is "smarter" than you or I. And while most of the people on this list do indeed have major accomplishments, they still feel the need to enhance their own superiority, and it's often easier to adopt the conspirational thinking or crank ideologies than it is to actually do something else important.



  • John Quincy Adams' anti-Masonic views[1] and supporting the Hollow Earth theory.[2]
  • Buzz Aldrin — Apollo 11 pilot and the second human to walk on the face of the Moon, outspoken advocate of further space exploration, the man who gave the asshole Bart Sibrel a richly-deserved punch in the face… and a global warming denialist.[3]
  • The animal rights movement, for perpetuating racism directed against Asian-Americans.[4] Their casual use of Holocaust analogies to score political points is also not nice.[5] It also has its roots in 19th century antisemitism, where some of them used Jewish dietary laws as an argument, something which was supported by Richard Wagner.[6]
  • Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion (to her credit, she did blame men and laws for driving women to abortion because they had no other options), and a number of her writings were rather racist by today's standards.[7]
  • David Attenborough endorsing the aquatic ape hypothesis.[8] He once did say a dubious statement that sounded vaguely racist and imperialist unintentionally, as although he correctly supports birth control against what the Vatican wants, it was misquoted by Alex Jones to sound like he was supporting mass starvation. [15]


  • Christiaan Barnard, the doctor who first transplanted a human heart, opposed apartheid[9] and... supported a worthless anti-aging product rightly banned by the FDA shortly after he lent it his support.[10]
  • P. T. Barnum, the 19th-century showman and debunker who is credited with coining the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute", was also a Connecticut politician mostly noted for his stand against slavery, although he also sponsored the anti-contraception law overturned by Griswold v. Connecticut.[11]
  • John Brown, who fought against slavery and seen as a Martyr by the Union, used violence and was fanatically religious.[12] His contemporaries saw him in a positive light, especially those who were more racially enlightened and opposed to an institution who was defended by slaveowners with bibles on levels that would make the NRA and anti-Abortion groups blush.



  • Richard Dawkins making outlandish statements on gender,[17] rape,[18] Islam[19] and even apologizing for pedophilia (though squarely in the context of recounting his own, personal experience with being molested).[20] See our article for the full run-down.
  • Charles Darwin opposed eugenics and social-darwinism for ethical reasons, but he himself believed that his own theory of evolution meant that eugenics and social-darwinism were the solution to the then current world problems and wrote many paragraphs in On The Origin Of Species and The descent of man that sound like if he outright endorsed the measures. [21]
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Creator of Sherlock Holmes, human rights activist,[22] and dogmatic believer in spiritualism.[23]
  • Freeman Dyson, a top-tier mathematical physicist best known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, and a global warming denier.[24]


  • Albert Einstein was an avowed socialist, placed great hopes in the Soviet Union, and was in denial about the crimes happening under Stalin.[25] This essentially made Einstein a tankie, albeit to be fair, many intellectuals in his time had similar views (which explains why Anti-Intellectualism was a part of both Red Scares).
  • Eugenicists: Many reasonable people, including Margaret Sanger, backed eugenics in the early 20th century. This is despite the fact eugenics was horribly racist even for the standards of its day (doctors in the 1920s debunked it easily and said race and skull shape have no correlation) and the role it played in inspiring Hitler.[26]


  • Tim Flannery, renowned mammalogist and paleontologist and one of Australia's leading rational voices in global warming activism, proclaimed himself a proponent of the Gaia hypothesis and seemed to be misinformed about the definition of atheism.[27]
  • Benjamin Franklin for his early support of slavery as he owned two slaves,[28] and for cheating on his wife.[29] To his credit, he was not a rabid anti-Semite as some conspiracy theories argue.[30] He also turned into an abolitionist towards the end of his life, which made sense politically as non Southern slavery was on the wane and Pennsylvania abolished slavery in his lifetime.


  • Mohandas Gandhi for his racism,[31] anti-Semitism and lukewarm support for Adolf Hitler,[32] not to mention his fear of sexuality in general, all while defending the caste system.[33] In addition to his obvious homophobia, given he did not even like heterosexuality that much, he also was not very up on women's rights and indirectly defended honor killings.[34]
  • Amy Goodman for her endorsement of anti GMO propaganda and listing Gilles-Eric Séralini as a source.[35]
  • Ted Geisel (aka, Dr. Seuss) for his racism towards Japanese people during WWII. He apologized after the war after befriending a Japanese man and wrote Horton Hears a Who.[36][37]


  • Sam Harris supporting racial profiling[38], general apologia for Israel,[39] and endorsement of The Bell Curve.[40]
  • Martin Heidegger enthusiastically supporting Nazism and Hitler in 1933, and enforcing the Nazi racial laws at the University of Freiburg.[41]
  • HoaxWiki is so radically in favor of nuclear energy that even being remotely anti-nuclear is enough reason for the sysops to label you as a crank. It should be noted however that the wiki is generally supporting of alternative energy as it has called out the Wind Turbine Syndrome for the bullshit it is and it is mainly coal and oil energy that it opposes.
  • Although the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) currently supports trans rights quite consistently and many trans people are members of it, it tried to pass an LGB rights bill after removing trans rights to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed in 2007 (even though Bush would have vetoed even that).[42] As a result of this, many trans people, especially on the more militant (anarchist-leaning) wing of the LGBTQ rights movements, still loathe the HRC today.


  • Lyndon Baines Johnson, despite his extraordinarily successful domestic policy, is generally not considered a great President due to his massively escalating the Vietnam War, now known to be a slight mistake.


  • Michio Kaku, whenever he speaks about anything outside his field of expertise, even remotely unrelated to physics.[43]
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., throughout his academic career, engaged in extensive plagiarism, including large tracts of his dissertation. See Martin Luther King Jr. authorship issuesWikipedia's W.svg for which allegations are and aren't true.
  • For Donald KnuthWikipedia's W.svg, despite being so brilliant that he was awarded a Master's degree instead of a Bachelor's degree, eccentric is an understatement. His typographical setting program "TeXWikipedia's W.svg", is on version 3.14159265, where each version gets a new digit of π. So, in typical nomenclature he's on version 1.10[44], and the program is 38 years old. He also wrote an entire series of works on verse 3:16 from every book of the Bible.[45]
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, for her denial of the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Rohingya Muslim people in Myanmar.[46]


  • Abraham Lincoln's views on race would be unambiguously racist today,[47] yet were nuanced by his time's standard. For comparison, Jefferson Davis was a man who was proud of slavery and racist even for the time as he believed racial slavery made white people equal.[48] To his credit, Lincoln's views shifted towards tolerance in his last years and he personally invited the first ever free black man to the White House: Frederick Douglass.[47]



  • Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist in the mid-19th century who opposed slavery and the Chinese Exclusion Act, attacked corrupt political bosses… and was vehemently racist against the Irish, as well as rabidly anti-Catholic[55].
  • Nelson Mandela embraced violence as a method of fighting apartheid and did nothing about the then lumbering aids epidemic that ended up causing many deaths in South Africa during his presidency. [56] However, he renounced violence later in his life and created after his presidency the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which is a charity that combats AIDS.
  • Isaac Newton, one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians ever, believed that alchemy was a proper branch of science, which was a horribly outdated idea even at the time he died.[57]
  • The New York Times swallowed a story by anti-GMO quack front group "US Right to Know" hook, line, and sinker.[58]
  • Norway for its unsustainable whaling, made worse by the fact that there isn't a market for whale at all in Norway.[59] Heck, even Japan doesn't want it.[60]


  • John Oliver, a popular British comedian and talk show host, had a (comically) scathing segment on his comedy news show Last Week Tonight lambasting the euthanization of a lion in a Danish zoo, and its subsequent public dissection in front of schoolchildren.[61] Unfortunately, he missed the nuance of the situation entirely, as the lion in question had been dead for months without protest, the original reason for the lion's euthanization was the high risk of inbreeding and efforts to find her a new home had failed.[62]
  • George Orwell, despite his highly influential critique of totalitarianism on both left and right, was prejudiced against Jews, as well as Catholics, especially in his earlier writings.[63][64]



  • James Randi, for overtly endorsing eugenics and social Darwinism. No kidding; tragic but true.[67]
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt for the creation of internment camps for Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans during WWII
  • Theodore Roosevelt was very racist and sexist even for his time and a strong supporter of American imperialism.
  • Rousseau's promotion of a strictly patriarchal nuclear family, necessitating wives to submit to their husbands to a degree well beyond the standards of his day.[68] Also he abandoned five of his own children (by his mistress) at an orphanage.[69]
  • Michael RuppertWikipedia's W.svg, investigative reporter and whistleblower. In 1996, he famously confronted CIA Director John Deutch in a town hall meeting, stating that in his experience as a LAPD Narcotics officer, he had seen evidence in CIA complicity in drug dealing.[70] His book Crossing the Rubicon hinted at 9/11 collusion, and was often quoted by 9/11 "truthers", but he later turned his focus to peak oil and stated, "I have nothing to do with the 9/11 truth movement."
  • Bertrand Russell's support of conspiracy theories for the JFK Assassination[71] and alternating between refusing to acknowledge and actively defending Viet Cong war crimes when setting up the Russell TribunalWikipedia's W.svg.
  • Burt RutanWikipedia's W.svg, famed aerospace engineer and founder of Scaled Composites, whose designs include the Rutan Voyager (the first plane to fly non-stop around the world without refueling) and the SpaceShip series of commercial spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, has expressed (pseudo)skepticism of anthropogenic climate change.[72] He is also a big fan of Saint Ronnie and all-out deregulation, and after the first successful suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, he suggested that his success must somehow intimidate NASA.


  • Bernie Sanders' debatable record on gun control[73][74] and support for GMO labeling[75] and alternative medicine[76], plus his overreach in claiming that Hillary Clinton wasn't qualified to be president.[77] Also red-baited his own campaign.[78] Heckofajob, Bernie!
  • Opponents rightly tore into Rick Santorum while he sought the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, but a few veered into some wholly unnecessary attacks for the way he and his wife handled their son's death shortly after his premature birth in 1996, where (per the medical advice he received, which was commonplace at the time) they brought home his deceased son.[79]
  • Gloria Steinem's early transphobia, though it got better later on.[80]
  • Jim SterlingWikipedia's W.svg: While his Jimquisition is in general a good voice for game developer and consumer rights and gives a wider, more enlightened view on the gaming medium as a whole it should be pointed out that some episodes of the Jimquisition feature rhetoric that is very offensive [81] and also that some episodes seem more like jabs to critics rather than productive content of any kind. [82] It should, however, be noted that Jim's offensive rhetoric has effectively halted in recent memory. It seems he's grown up a bit since the aforementioned comments.
  • Socrates' criticism of reading, saying "[The written word] will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls."[83] He also opposed democracy because politicians of the time weren't concerned with his view on justice.[84] To be fair to him (and many ancient philosophers) Athens, while giving more opportunities for poor people to succeed than Sparta allowed, didn't have a democracy like we know today as only those who were natural citizens had the right to vote and it was very sexist, especially compared to Sparta where women and men in each class had almost equal rights and very similar obligations. [85] [86] [87]
  • Sam SederWikipedia's W.svg: for promoting anti-GMO propaganda.[88]
  • William ShockleyWikipedia's W.svg, co-inventor of the transistor (without which the computer/smartphone/tablet/games console you're using to read this article probably would not exist), being a racialist and a eugenicist.


  • Willy VandersteenWikipedia's W.svg would easily be considered to be a very productive author of comic books and quite ahead of its time on many social issues, especially if you compare his work to the US comic book scene, but he also drew an antisemitic comic during World War 2 under a pseudonym. [89] It should however be noted that he also drew antinazist comics under the pseudonym WIL and that he was paid by the Nazis for his antisemitic work, so he is not quite an antisemite.
  • Gore Vidal being a Pearl Harbor[90] and 9/11 truther[91] and responding to a bad book review by blaming the Jews.[92]
  • Voltaire's anti-Semitism, which contrasted in how many contemporaries wanted to free French Jews from the ghettos.[93]


See also[edit]


  1. Past Anti-Masons: John Quincy Adams
  2. John Quincy Adams Once Approved an Expedition to the Center of the Earth Smithsonian Magazine
  3. Buzz Aldrin calls for manned flight to Mars to overcome global problems The Daily Telegraph
  5. [1]
  6. Offenes Schreiben an Herrn Ernst von Weber Verfasser der Schrift Die Folterkammern der Wissenschaft, 1879, R. Wagner, Gesammelte Werke, Leipzig 1888.
  7. About Women's History: Susan B. Anthony
  8. Timur Moon. Experts Pour Cold Water on David Attenborough 'Aquatic Ape' Claims International Business Times]
  9. "Dr. Barnard to Back Anti-Apartheid Party". Los Angeles Times. Reuters (Cape Town, South Africa). 29 July 1989. 
  10. Altman, Lawrence K. (3 September 2001). "Christiaan Barnard, 78, Surgeon For First Heart Transplant, Dies". The New York Times. 
  11. "Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut – Today in History".
  12. [2].
  13. Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chávez for 'assault' on democracy
  14. Distortions at Fourth Hand
  15. Noam Chomsky Whitewashes Cambodian Genocide
  17. Lee, Adam. "Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name" The Guardian.
  18. Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse', The Independent
  19. Several articles on the subject (see Richard Dawkins#Islamophobia for the full run-down), e.g. [3][4][5]
  20. Ringo, Allegra. "The Atheist Movement Needs to Disown Richard Dawkins", September 17, 2014.
  22. Supporter of the Congo Reform Association,Wikipedia's W.svg which exposed gross and rampant abuses of labor and by public servants in the Congo Free State.Wikipedia's W.svg Jacques Fomerand (18 February 2014). Historical Dictionary of Human Rights. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8108-8035-1. 
  23. See the Wikipedia article on Arthur Conan Doyle § Spiritualism, Freemasonry.
  24. Dyson on global warming, see also A response to Freeman Dyson's "Heretical Thoughts" and In it for the Gold's debunkings
  25. CSICOP: The Myth of Consistent Skepticism: The Cautionary Case of Albert Einstein
  27. Flannery denies being an atheist and speaks about his 2010 book and Gaia
  31. [6]
  32. Alfredo de Braganza. "Gandhi on Jews. Part 2: Nazis and Cowardice". (September 13, 2013). Times of Israel official blog.
  33. [7]
  41. See the Wikipedia article on Martin Heidegger and Nazism.
  43. See our article on him.
  44. note: He didn't start this π numbering until he reached version 3, so 2 versions from 1 to 3, then 8 versions after is ten minor revisions, as he has never done a complete overhaul of the code. Basically, if it even be possible to write a perfect program, it would be done by Donald Knuth.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Singer, Alan J. "Abraham Lincoln Never Believed in Racial Equality", History News Network
  49. [8]
  50. [9]
  51. By design: James Clerk Maxwell and the evangelical unification of science. Stanley M. Br J Hist Sci. 2012 Mar;45(164 Pt 1):57-73.
  53. (see Citizens, speak TurkishWikipedia's W.svg)
  54. the Liberal Republican PartyWikipedia's W.svg to be exact
  55. Editorial Cartoonist Thomas Nast: Anti-Irish, Anti-Catholic Bigot?
  58. "Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show", New York Times. September 5, 2015.
  59. [10]
  60. [11]
  63. Was George Orwell an Anti-Semite?, Anshel Pfeffer, Forward, August 4, 2012
  67. James Randi#The dark side of Randi
  69. [12]
  71. Russell, Bertrand A. W. (1969). The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1944-1969. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 289-301. 
  72. New ScientistBurt Rutan: The maverick of Mojave
  73. [13]
  74. To be fair to Bernie, Vermont is not the rest of the United States. Different states have different needs, and while strict gun control makes sense when in a crowded city, it makes less sense in a place where there are more bears than police. In these areas (while not in the US, LongyearbyenWikipedia's W.svg is one such place) it's sometimes illegal to not be armed for this reason.
  75. [14]
  76. S. 852 (113th): Veterans' Health Promotion Act of 2013,
  78. He kept saying and still claims that he is a democratic socialist, while he is really a social democrat.
  81. Link to where he is bashing on children with Down Syndrome and parents that have those children:
  82. Check for yourself how subjective this review is:
  83. Maclean’s, Nov 1, 2011
  84. Socrates' criticism of democracy, Encyclopædia Britannica